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thedrifter
04-24-03, 07:34 AM
F Company spends Easter watching suspicious locals, helping injured woman

By Gina Cavallaro
Times staff writer

NASIRIYAH, Iraq — The Iraqi woman was badly burned. The corpsman started an intravenous solution in her arm. The woman’s mother watched, crying inconsolably as Marines lifted her 22-year-old daughter and placed her in the back of a Humvee.
It was about an hour before sunset, and the air was hot and thick with dust as the Humvee ambulance and security convoy weaved through city traffic and sped for a military hospital 16 miles southwest at Tallil Air Base.

“She was trying to talk,” said Hospital Corpsman Luis Castro, 22, of West Palm Beach, Fla., who is assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment. “I knew she had an airway, I knew she was breathing.”

But attempts to help the woman — burned over 50 percent of her body at home in a cooking accident — had run head-on into a cultural barrier. Her husband would not let Castro or Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Brian Peebles lift her dress to inspect her wounds. The husband rode along in the Humvee on the ride to the hospital, like a combination chaperone and next-of-kin.

For the Fox Company crew members, this was the tail end of what proved to be a busy day here: medical emergencies, suspicious locals with guns, exploding ordnance. It was Easter Sunday, but outside chaplain’s call, that hardly seemed to matter.

By dark, the woman was in the good care of a 101st Airborne Division doctor — and a female medical specialist, which seemed to put the husband at greater ease. The Fox Company crew stocked up on some supplies at the hospital and then returned to their command post.

Fox Company, a Reserve unit out of Albany, N.Y., had been mobilized for most of 2002, spending the better part of the year at Camp Lejeune, N.C. They went home in December, only to be called up again in January. They’ve been in the Persian Gulf region since mid-February and in Iraq for about three weeks.

From their command post in an abandoned house at the south end of the Southern Bridge on the Euphrates River, Fox Company troops conduct foot patrols, random vehicle searches and help keep the road and bridge clear for military convoys.

“We’re ambassadors of good will,” said company commander Maj. Chris Douglas, 33, a New York state trooper from Saratoga.

Checkpoints such as those operated by Fox Company dot the landscape all around this hardscrabble city of almost a half million people, where barefoot children dart into the street from squalid neighborhoods to greet the Marines with ear-to-ear smiles. Marines last month saw some of the bloodiest fighting in this war here, an important Euphrates River crossing point on the route to Baghdad. The area is still far from safe. Explosions sound off as ordnance disposal teams destroy caches of Iraqi munitions. Gunfire sometimes is heard, too.

Easter services

On Easter morning, Fox Company’s Marines working a fortified checkpoint got something of a wake-up call in the form of a hand grenade. A local resident wanted to trade it in for food or water.

Just before 11 a.m., Marines manning the checkpoint at the north end of the bridge called to report they were detaining five people stopped in a late-model car and found with AK-47 assault rifles. The car, according to company 1st Sgt. Joe Angelino, the police chief in Norwich, N.Y., was unusual in a city where beat-up clunkers are the norm.

The Marines corralled the detainees behind a concertina wire fence, gave them food, water and shade. They later released them — minus the weapons — after a “human exploitation team,” specialists in gathering information, determined they weren’t a threat.

As the morning wore on, religious services were held for the Marines, and a team of Navy Seabees arrived to build a bank of toilets for the Fox company leathernecks.

Things stayed busy between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. The Marines fired up a Humvee and rushed a lance corporal off for emergency medical treatment for dysentery. Some other Marines found five mortar rounds under power lines at one of the checkpoints and called in an explosive ordnance disposal team. The EOD team later radioed to say they’d be blowing munitions in three minutes inside Fox Company’s position. Before long, the explosions went off.

No one flinched.

Long day’s night

Late in the long, hot afternoon, the Marines raided a home and detained two men. The action was sparked by the discovery earlier in the day of a “certificate of graduation” from a training course for Saddam Fedayeen, a paramilitary force of brutal Iraqi regime loyalists. The official-looking document had a color picture of Saddam Hussein, some Arabic writing that was translated by the company’s interpreter, and a pasted-on photo of the individual the Marines were seeking to detain in the raid.

That individual wasn’t home when the Marines came calling, but they detained two other men for questioning. They later released them, after the detainees spent the better part of four hours sitting in the dirt yard of the command post, using boxes of MREs. The Marines gave some MREs to the detainees, who amused themselves trying to figure out what to do with them.

Around the time the call came in about the woman with the burns, a foot patrol reported the discovery of missile loaders on a truck — with three missiles loaded and intact.

“It was a hazard because civilians were stripping the truck,” said Angelino. The Marines surrounded the vehicle with concertina wire and stood watch to keep locals out of harm’s way.

As the time to rack out finally neared, some Fox Company members conceded that it had been an unusually busy day. But they did not moan about the danger and hardships. Not that they were without complaint, though — mail could be a whole lot faster in getting here. And, man, what they wouldn’t give for some ice.


Sempers,

Roger